The rumour stemmed from Mustards & Punch, a restaurant in the unassuming village of Honley, where the outskirts of Hudders-field meet the looming Pennine hills. Some say the restaurant has been rather overdoing its challenge to the village's two fish-and-chip shops with a Roux-trained chef, debut entry in the 1995 Good Food Guide and increasingly outlandish attempts to upstage a perfectly good slice of Mother's Pride. But on the Saturday night I visited the little place was full to bursting with casually dressed and cheerful young couples.
The style is cosy bistro/cafe with candlelight, dark wood floors, checked tablecloths, clutter and unobtrusive jazz. A friendly girl in a big apron led us downstairs, where we admired the range of bric-a-brac suspended from the walls and ceiling - here a fez, there a riding hat, here a stuffed pheasant, there a pan.
The urge to theme restaurants with collections of things has never really caught on in the smart mainstream, unless you count knives and forks or tables. We were at a loss to work out where the Mustards & Punch theme fitted in. The sign outside was a mustardy colour with a picture of a jester's hat which might just have been worn by Mr Punch. There were cartoons on the walls which could have been from Punch magazine, but no obvious sign of any mustards. Why mustard, though? Why Punch? When a restaurant's chicken is corn fed, its duck confited and its mushrooms wild, why not christen it Tapenade & the Idler, or Balsamic Vinegar & Marie Claire?
Bemused but excited we waited for the bread to arrive. But it was straightforward thick-cut, soft, grainy, brown bread without a morsel of Pomfret cake or ferret-dropping in sight. It was like searching for sixpences in Christmas pudding when there weren't any. But it did make us think much more seriously about the reasons for restaurant bread in the first place: a) to fill you up if you are too hungry to wait for the meal; b) to fill you up if the meal is too dainty; c) to mop up delicious juices too runny to be eaten by fork; and d) to make the meal into sandwiches if desired.
Designer bread is likely to ruin your meal by encouraging you to overdo a) or b) or to swamp its flavour in c) or d). We decided, therefore, that we were much better off with the traditional but delicious stuff we had.
For dinner Mustards & Punch offer starters from around pounds 4-pounds 7 and main courses from pounds 10-pounds l4 (they are popular in the area, too, for their pounds 6.50 lunches). The wine list is very un-greedily priced, with house wine at pounds 8.95, house Champagne at pounds 20 and treats like a '91 Puligny-Montrachet at pounds 29.50.
My mother, who lives nearby and is a fan of the restaurant, said that the service was lovely but, "If they forget to bring something, just ask them again and they'll bring it." Our waitress did, it's true, forget to bring my friend a water glass, then forgot again, but this could happen to anyone and was amply made up for by the friendliness and excellent timing which contributed to a relaxed atmosphere. They even let us stay on, gassing, after the other diners had gone, without making us feel a nuisance.
All sorts of foreign influences had been busily influencing the savoury department (Italian, French, Thai and even Australian), but things were pleasantly free of the hyper-imaginative - nothing from the pork chops smothered in nectarines with a lavender jus school of cooking.
My friend began with a generous portion of tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella - of the softest, whitest sort - grilled polenta and San Daniele ham, declaring them delicious and very nicely presented. I had imagined my warm Thai beef salad as a lettuce-leaf-meets-beef-satay ensemble. Instead, thin strips of beef were bathing in a runny sauce at the bottom of the dish. It was tasty, but something you'd expect to come with rice - not topped with lettuce leaves and those crispy noodles that look as though they're made from very thin polystyrene. I liked eating it, but thought it weird.
Scottish monkfish and salmon in filo with sauce gazpacho was much more of a success. The filo pastry parcel was lovely: light and melt-in-your- mouth, perfect with the fish, which had let itself down a touch by being just slightly on the soggy side. My friend loved the rack of Yorkshire Dales lamb - again a generous portion, seasoned with Provencal herbs. We both were very keen on the lightly cooked vegetables served absolutely plain; so much better than smothering them in something when the main dishes are tasty enough already. I thought the new potatoes, cooked in their skins, were a bit overdone but that might have been me being metropolitan, just wanting my vegetables run under the hot tap.
The puddings were superb whichever way you looked at them, though we eschewed "Mustards' ice-cream" for creating disgusting imaginary taste sensations. My friend had a summer pudding which was one of the best we'd ever come across - rather thinner than usual with the stylish yet practical invention of a lid you could lift off to scoop out the soggy middle. I had lemon creme brulee - brilliant, and pleasingly large. The top was particularly good, more like the thin crispy crust you get on the best chocolate brownies than the usual layer of caramelised sugar. Best of all, between the ordering and delivery, I'd forgotten about the extra ingredient: cherries, lovely dark ones, lurking under the topping. It was nearly as good as finding a bit of black pudding there - though slightly less divinely rustica.Reuse content